For reporters, Elon Musk is the gift that keeps on giving.

Freshly anointed "Businessperson of the Year" by Fortune magazine and often compared to the late Steve Jobs, Musk keeps us dazzled and entertained as he takes on giant goals like creating a market for a new kind of electric car, pursuing space travel with SpaceX and launching the Hyperloop to whisk people in capsules.

He is, by far, the best salesperson and best marketer for Tesla and deserves much of the credit for its phenomenal success so far.

But for investors, Musk may have become a gift that keeps on taking. His hyperactivity has placed a target on his back. He deserves some of the blame for this. Musk can be combative and reactive. There is no dust-up too small for him to join.

On Twitter, his favorite communications vehicle, he bashed actor George Clooney for a stray negative comment about his old model Tesla. He also took to Twitter to complain about media coverage after the three recent Tesla vehicle fires. "Why does a Tesla fire w no injury get more media headlines than 100,000 gas car fires that kill 100s of people per year?"

He is also a ubiquitous presence on TV, whether CNBC or after visiting workers injured in a Tesla industrial accident.


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He's had some back and forth with the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration over the high safety rating of the Tesla Model S.

This is the same guy who took on The New York Times for an unflattering review and who says he considers responding to email one of his core competencies.

At first glance, Musk appears to be cast from the same mold of charismatic chief executives like Jobs, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg who are personally identified with their companies. They have struggled to know when to fight, whether to shrug off the latest blip, what to let minions handle.

When it comes to Musk, there is still a learning curve.

There are risks to direct public engagement such as making disagreements too personal, said Glenn Bunting, president of G.F. Bunting+Co., a strategic communications firm in San Francisco.

But Musk's "approach is in many ways both groundbreaking and refreshing," Bunting said. "He isn't relying on a team of lawyers, PR specialists and crisis management gurus. He is taking his case to the public and has volunteered a lot of information that has been helpful to consumers."

As Tesla enters a key stage in its growth -- taking the Model S to China -- it is time to ask if Musk wants to be a celebrity or continue running his breakthrough company. New companies need to build their brand and leaders are crucial to that process. Executives quickly learn that they themselves are a scarce resource. In fact, they can have more impact if they limit their exposure.

Tesla itself may not need Musk to be ubiquitous as it once did. "As CEO, he should probably stick to the big picture and let someone else be the combative one," said Merredith Branscombe, a public relations veteran who has advised executives at startup and large tech firms.

So some unsolicited advice: If Musk wants to lessen the attention he receives, strive to be boring. Other people should speak for the firm. Stay off Twitter and email. Don't mention the Hyperloop for a while. Invite the press for a day-long symposium on the shortage of lithium-ion battery cells. Don't attend.

And George Clooney? Who cares.

Contact Michelle Quinn at 510-394-4196 and mquinn@mercurynews.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/michellequinn.